Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wildlife

Crows calling raucously in the early morning. Earlier than I want to get up. Still calling at around 6:30 so I get out of bed and take a look outside. Usually they're onto something interesting.

"Hey Rachel, can you get the binoculars?". I see a big brown bird in the tuliptree next to our house.

Out she comes with the 'narcs.

Bald eagle! Up on the Sourland ridge, why? Maybe crows chased it all the way here from the nearest big body of water. Last time a bald eagle came through, a pack of fish crows was on its tail.

The crows have suddenly lost interest in this one, but not the baltimore oriole. The oriole is a brawler with a funky theme song to accompany its dashing colors. No bald eagle is going to mess up this fine morning!

I had my camera by then, little lens pushed up against the right eyepiece of the binoculars.


Little did I know while taking the photo that the oriole was nearly flying up the eagle's tail.

The eagle got tired of being harassed, turned and flew its great big plank-wings away. Away from the forboding Sourlands, land of black-hooded thugs.

The oriole, still itching for a fight, turned right around and took on three brown-headed cowbirds.


This little beauty showed up a few days later, inside, by the grow lamp where the baby maidenhair ferns live. We saw him before going to bed, on a night of torrential rains. Naught to do but let the little wood satyr spend a dry night with us. The next morning, I gently held his two wings between my thumb and middle finger and placed him back outside.



There is a little clump of pussytoes growing alongside a narrow woods path near the pond. I have to admire the american lady butterfly who found this patch, possibly the only one for quite a ways around. There she laid the egg which became this little chomper.

I (well, Rachel and I both) are trying to learn our butterflies and caterpillars this year. One of the things which is making the task so pleasurable for me is how it builds on my love of plants. These beautiful creatures are absolutely interdependent on our native flora - in a vivid and visceral way. It makes me feel good to witness a wild relationship, to see the dependency at the heart of predation, the ragged chomped edges at the fringes of every birth.


These fuzzy little trumpets belong to a partridgeberry just up the trail from the pussytoes-being-eaten.



I saw this ragged appalachian azure investigating black cohosh flower-spikes. This species hosts on black cohosh; its caterpillars consume buds as well as leaves, and are tended by ants. The Sourlands appears to be the southernmost outpost of this (rather scarce) specialist in New Jersey.


Some of the dill in our garden is being slowly eaten by this caterpillar. Looking up "dill" in the caterpillars book led us to the entry for black swallowtail. As the dill self-seeds rampantly each year... bring on the swallowtail larvae!


This truly huge caterpillar remains a mystery to me. Found it (and several others of its kind) in a wet meadow at the Plum Brook Preserve, apparently hosted by young white ash saplings. No luck finding it in any books. It was about four inches long and nearly as thick as my thumb.




I was in the wet meadow because we were releasing Galerucella beetles, the biocontrol for the invasive plant purple loosestrife. Purple loosestrife will now have ragged chomped edges like all of our native plants... and be much less aggressive. Welcome to the ecosystem!

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A few additional sightings...


I think beetles might be next year's learning project. Look at the art deco stylings of these two little chompers!



Another stunning shell - the neighborhood box turtle who seems to be relishing the monsoon season we are having.



Unknown insect on poison ivy


baby robin


Catskills hermit thrush

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